Alumni work the tech sector’s many angles at Amazon
As the technology industry explodes, “working in tech” doesn’t just mean you are skilled in data analysis, IT support, or back-end development for websites and social media platforms.
Major tech organizations like Amazon, which is headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood just minutes from SPU’s campus, have expanded their services to provide groceries, publishing services, cloud storage, and even fashion advice. Of course, SPU graduates work across the tech sector, and you can find them at Microsoft, Boeing, Tableau, Oracle, T-Mobile, and IBM.
But Amazon.com Inc. is one of the largest and fastest-growing technology companies in the world, according to Thomson Reuters. The cross-section of employees at work in this hub of innovation highlights the ways alumni are putting their talents to use in the spirit of exploration and service. You’ll find them across the organization, from buying and recruiting, to measurement and analysis, to veteran advocacy, book publishing, and user-centered interface design.
With more than half a million employees worldwide, Amazon is empowering data-driven minds to follow their passions and interests to invent new systems, processes, goods, and services. SPU alumni are rising to the challenge, eager to ensure that the future of commerce and technological innovation is expansive and inclusive.
The sentence-diagramming publishing maven
When Megan Mulder ’10 graduated, she wanted to change the world for readers, one best-selling book at a time. Little did she know that, instead, she’d be changing the world for authors, one publishing program at a time — and loving it.
Lessons in sentence diagramming from Professor Emeritus of English Luke Reinsma’s advanced grammar course helped Mulder prepare for an editing certificate at the University of Washington and a future in editing and publishing. Her current job as a senior editor for Amazon Publishing grew from that interest, starting with contract work for Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing.
Mulder next worked as a risk management specialist for Kindle Worlds, the first publishing program to pay royalties on fan fiction works, before supporting the launch of Kindle Scout, a reader-powered publishing service for new, never-before-published books. Mulder calls Kindle Scout the American Idol for books: Authors upload finished manuscripts and covers for readers, who then nominate their favorites to be published. She helped set up program operations and oversaw the editing services for many of the books submitted to the platform.
Works contracted through Kindle Scout are published by Kindle Press, for which Mulder served as the managing editor. In that role, she managed accounts for more than 200 authors across a variety of genres. Now as a senior editor for Amazon Publishing, she focuses mainly on content and negotiating new contracts with authors.
Mulder has appreciated the opportunity to learn about and influence innovation in publishing at Amazon. She has engaged with authors to provide different levels of creative control and editorial support based on the program or publishing style the author chooses.
“One of the cool things about Amazon is that if you have a skill set or an idea, you can advocate for new roles or new projects,” Mulder says. “I spent a lot of time finding spaces where I could use my English background and it’s been cool to see the many avenues available to authors, the continuing innovation in the world of books, and the opportunities that can exist in a tech company for book lovers.”
Champion for the military community
Sarah Martin ’16 is not a veteran, but her patriotism and passion for justice motivate her to advocate for marginalized vets. So she found it serendipitous when, just before her graduation, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos committed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses and train 10,000 more in cloud computing.
“Veterans love to volunteer and help other veterans, so it has been a blessing to work alongside them,” Martin says. “I feel like I speak their language and they speak mine.”
As the Amazon military program coordinator, a role she took immediately after graduating, Martin helps retain and serve transitioning veterans, wounded warriors, military spouses, and active-duty fellows at Amazon. She oversees global growth of the Warriors@Amazon employee resource network to support veterans and military spouses, and manages programs such as Amazon’s Military Speaker Series. Retired U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has spoken in the series, and Martin plans to host an event this summer with Major Scotty Smiley, the first blind active duty officer in the U.S. Army.
“I love how I’ve been empowered to build massive, global-scale programs and to do so from scratch, myself, with the support of a great manager and mentors,” Martin said. “The rapid pace of change at Amazon is exciting, and you are expected to own your projects and do whatever you need to make them happen.”
Martin became a veterans’ advocate early in her time at SPU. As a first-year student, she was surprised and disappointed to hear about veterans who were openly criticized for discussing their military service, so she advocated for club funding to start the Military and Veteran Support Club with the help of three faculty members.
Lessons she learned at SPU help her advocate well for the military community at Amazon. In addition to programs that provide access to employment opportunities, Martin also manages industry fellowship programs. In those programs, Amazon partners with the Department of Defense to train active-duty service members, educate military leaders, and enhance military capabilities.
As the only nonveteran on her team, Martin sees her unique role as an opportunity to bridge the military and civilian worlds.
“Offering hope to our military community is my main goal,” Martin says. “That ties into my Christian faith, which grounds me and helps me focus on creating good in the company.”
The people’s advocate
Brittany Epps MA ’16 advocates for people. At Amazon, she does this by shifting recruiting practices to increase the diversity of hiring pools.
“I aim to get as many people to the table as possible,” she says. “People make the place, and I will do whatever is in my power to help those people.”
As a diversity program manager for Kindle Content & International Consumer, Epps loves discussing diversity with her leaders, even if it means the occasional tough conversation.
Epps graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and grew up in an even smaller Texas town. She wanted to move to a city after graduation, and SPU’s master’s program in industrial-organizational psychology caught her attention. She knew Seattle Pacific was the school for her the minute she arrived for her campus interview. The small campus would give her a warm community, and the Seattle location would give her studies the big-city context she wanted.
One of the biggest lessons Epps took from SPU was to lead with conviction. She also learned how to get people on her side by explaining and advocating for her position.
Epps, a black woman, wants to give people who look like her a chance to succeed in the workplace on equal footing with all candidates.
SPU gave Epps the data-analysis skills she uses to convince others at Amazon to make particular hiring and recruitment decisions. She also learned at SPU the importance of soft skills, such as clear communication and partnership, and how to fight for good ideas.
“If it is right and it will make the company better, then I will fight for it,” Epps says. “I am OK with being the person to bring up an issue, because I do not want anyone to feel like they do not have a place here.”
The marketing guru
David Charcas ’01 has worked at many small tech startups, so he knows that work fulfillment comes not only from a company’s resources but also from the organization’s community. It’s a lesson he first learned in SPU’s School of Business, Government, and Economics.
“There’s a lot of opportunity when you realize you have skills that you can contribute to making the community better and improving the environment,” Charcas says.
The SBGE’s internship program introduced him to the daily routines of media buyers, account executives, and others in marketing. He also used the SBGE’s Mentor Program to meet monthly with the CEO of the Seattle Steam Company, who shared tips about leadership and decision-making.
After graduating, Charcas worked in a series of entry-level marketing coordinator roles at fast-growing startups, including a company called CodeCorrect, which was named one of the 500 fastest-growing companies by Inc. for several years. After a 15-year career in health care analytics, he moved to Amazon in September 2017.
Now a sales automation program manager, he oversees sales software and coordinates between sales representatives in the field, sales managers, and the sales software development team. He analyzes data on sales interactions, assesses sales goals, and suggests ways to improve customers’ sales experiences.
Recently, Amazon has announced a plan to move into the health care industry. If Amazon were to become a major supplier for hospitals and outpatient clinics, it could change distribution of everything from gauze to hip implants, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While Charcas found Amazon’s open-minded, self-directed approach to be challenging at first, he says one of the ways he adapts to the chaos is to rely on community and communication.
“One of the things that is exciting and encouraging in my role is that there is opportunity to grow because of the access to resources that Amazon affords,” he says. “Access to tools that I might not have had at other jobs, and emerging opportunity at Amazon for areas that I’m interested in, really excite me.”
The systems analyst
For Anne Ho MS ’98, work is different every week. As a business systems analyst for Amazon’s People Technology team, Ho works in human resources to build tools for Amazon employees around the world.
“My job title changes from job to job, but my role has always been to solve business problems by understanding business needs and technology resources, and to bring them together,” she says.
Ho has been at Amazon for almost a year, and has already traveled to Ireland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic to brainstorm and discuss resource needs with Amazon employees across Europe.
Her job is to see projects through from start to finish. Each project starts with research, which involves talking to stakeholders all around the world. She then works with a team of developers to list requirements for the systems they want to use.
After her undergraduate education in computer science and math at Central Washington University, Ho turned to SPU’s master of science in information systems to better know how to apply those skills.
“I really appreciated SPU, because without my study there I wouldn’t be able to know the real-world operations,” Ho said. “Being customer-centric and helping others is what I learned most from SPU, and I think it relates directly to Amazon’s customer obsession.”
Ho frequently runs into other SPU alumni around the computer science world, from past and current jobs.
“It’s a small world,” she says. “What a big influence SPU has on us all.”